Writer/director Steph Du Melo’s fearsome As a Prelude to Fear is a dark British suspense film that begins with a woman being stabbed to death in a dungeon. We then meet Eve Taylor (Lara Lemon), an aspiring cellist who has an appointment with renowned music teacher Giles Corcoran (Roger Wyatt). Her fella, Jamie Harris (Jamie Langlands), drops her off, concerned about the whole set-up, as the famously talented Corcoran is also notoriously mean. Eve says not to worry and waits at a small cafe, where she gets a phone call to go around the corner to a house to meet.
When she arrives, someone chloroforms her. Eve wakes up in the same room in the dungeon the murdered woman was in. Voices of women in other cells warn her to stay quiet, or their captor will do horrible things. When Eve asks how long they have been down in the dungeon, one woman says 14 years.
Meanwhile, Jamie reports her disappearance to the police. Detective Dobson (Lucy Drive) assures him they are on the case, while her superior, Detective Barnbrook (Francis Magee), is getting agitated that another woman has disappeared in his jurisdiction. The media is linking the disappearance to the never caught Pied Piper Killer. Years earlier, Barnbrook had publicly accused Corcoran of being the Pied Piper, as all the women who disappeared were his students. Nothing was proven, but Barnbrook pulls Corcoran back in for questioning. He sneers at Barnbrook over his perpetual lack of evidence.
Meanwhile, Eve is trying to figure out how to get out. When she meets her captor, a dark figure with a distorted voice and a covered face, she refuses to cooperate. This figure then goes into another cell and starts cutting pieces off another prisoner until Eve submits. Will the Pied Piper be caught? If he is, will anyone find the women before they starve to death?
“The media is linking the disappearance to the never caught Pied Piper Killer.”
As a Prelude to Fear is a grim piece of work that takes some nasty turns down in the dark. The subject matter is taken seriously. It is well-paced and engaging, with twists that had me second-guessing throughout. The lighting and atmosphere are very well done, dredging the murk effectively. Du Melo also scored the picture with a tidy orchestra that nicely fits the cellist themes.
But the acting is a bit more uneven. All the performers do a good job, but some seem to be playing up for melodrama while others are subdued and subtle. I have no doubt the actors are up to snuff; it just would be better if everyone were tuned to the same frequency.
Overall the film is a good-looking production, except it has this odd feeling that is linked to its low budget. Similar to one of the prisoner’s chopped-off hands, there is a rubbery yet shiny look of artificiality to the proceedings. While this would usually be a negative, I was drawn to the aesthetics of this greasy look. I have long felt that the lower quality imaging of independent features can actually enhance the image. This is especially true of the work of some of my favorite low-budget British directors, like Norman J Warren. The sheen of the cheaper product glistens like the sweat on a mad man’s brow, which fits the subject matter to a T.
Overall, As a Prelude to Fear is the entertainment equivalent of an old diner with a rusty sign that serves great chili.
"…a grim piece of work that takes some nasty turns..."